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PJ Online | Onlooker (Addiction to the goggle box / Global health and moral values interact / Grim warnings about the prospect of disastrous climactic warming)

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PJ Online homeThe Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 273 No 7322 p622
23 October 2004

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Onlooker

Addiction to the goggle box more
Global health and moral values interact more
Grim warnings about the prospect of disastrous climatic warming more


Addiction to the goggle box

Two articles published in The Lancet for 17 July draw attention to the unhealthy aspects of too much television watching by children and adolescents.

The first article, from a group of investigators in New Zealand, examines theamount and type of television viewing indulged in by individuals between theages of five and 21 years. The authors comment that in developed countries thetime spent in front of the box during childhood and adolescence may even exceedthe time spent in school, provoking concern that such a habit might have adverseeffects on health both of the child and of the adult. Not only might it displacemore energetic activities but it might also encourage poor eating habits, violentbehaviour and substance abuse.

Previous studies have linked television viewing to obesity, poor physical fitness,lipid abnormalities and the smoking habit, but the long-term outcome in termsof later adult health seems not to have been addressed. Between the ages of fiveand 15 years the amount of viewing correlated with lower socioeconomic status,increase in parental smoking, higher maternal and paternal body-mass indicesand body-mass index at age five.

Although television viewing went hand in hand with excessive weight, poor cardiorespiratoryfunction, raised serum cholesterol and adolescent cigarette smoking, no significantassociation was discovered with blood pressure. Television advertising in NewZealand tends to promote an unhealthy diet and influence other behaviours suchas cigarette smoking by offering undesirable examples, and this effect is independentof the family’s habits. Viewing habits established in childhood may persistinto early adulthood and adults should lead by example by reaching for the off-switch.This should be a health priority.

In the second article, a commentary by investigators at Harvard University, itis stated that a typical child in the US watches television for 2.5 hours daily,which is more than 10 times the average time spent in vigorous physical activity.Mental health experts are also worried about television programmes encouragingviolence. Other undesirable effects are weight gain caused by the neglect ofphysical activity, the depression of metabolic rate and the encouragement ofunhealthy eating and drinking by food advertisements.

The food industry spends enormous amounts of money in advertising high-caloriepoor-quality foods to children, making it more likely that they will requestsuch foods from their parents. Unfortunately, television viewing duringchildhood tends to affect health later in life, by encouraging unhealthy choices.

Ultimately, “parents must reclaim from television the responsibility foreducating and entertaining their young children”. There is a case for aban on food advertisements aimed at children. Otherwise there is a distinct dangerthat another generation will be programmed to become obese.

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Global health and moral values interact

The prospects for human health in a world under increasing threat from AIDS, terrorism, environmental destruction and political indifference are problematical.

In October last year a meeting at Trinity College, Cambridge, discussed the effectof moral values and some of the points raised have been described by two expertsin the 18 September issue of The Lancet. Programmes of public health launchedby the World Health Organization have been directed towards controlling malaria,tuberculosis, poliomyelitis and tobacco use and, to achieve advances, here callsfor the support of ethical and moral values. Technical excellence and politicalcommitment are valueless unless there is an ethically sound purpose behind them.New global health programmes would be facilitated by applying common moral values.An approach based on rights or equity might be expected to differ from one thatwas utilitarian or humanitarian in nature. The moral soundness of a programmehas in practice to be balanced against the imperative of achieving consensusamong people who hold many different moral views.

Four major divisions of moral values commonly applied to global health mattersare humanitarianism, utilitarianism, equity and rights. The essence of humanitarianismis embedded in nearly all religions. Compassion, empathy or altruism dictateaction. This is the primary ethical basis of voluntary action undertaken by non-governmentalorganisations. Utilitarianism involves the happiness, pleasure or satisfactionof desires created in an individual by health measures. Improving health in deprivedpeople is in everybody’s interest. Equity means the fairer distributionof health facilities and means, for example, the removal of discrimination bygender. Human rights are an intensely argued field of thought.

Then there is the interaction between the right to affordable access to drugsand the idea of international intellectual property rights which may favour commerceover human health. This and the foregoing considerations make important mattersfor argument when global health is on the agenda.

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Grim warnings about the prospect of disastrous climatic warming

Some progress is being reported in agreements over the many climate studies carried out for several decades. Researchers are in fair agreement that our world has risen in temperature by about 0.6C during the past century, most of the effect being thought to be attributable to human activity in burning fossil fuels to produce carbon dioxide. However, assessments of climate science have been vague in respect of future warming. Extreme calculations have yielded figures between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees.

A news item by Richard Carr in Science for 13 August describes advances reported by a panel on climate sensitivity which met in Paris at the end of July. Almost all the evidence, it was found, indicates a temperature rise of 3C and a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide by the end of this century. This would be potentially disastrous. The three leading climate models produced in the US suggest a temperature rise of 2.5 to 3.0C, but clouds might affect the energy budget as carbon dioxide increases. Clouds tend to reflect more shorter wavelength radiation, but the overall effect might be an increase or a decrease in rainfall.

The general opinion after the conference was that a temperature rise of around 3C, with a margin a half a degree either way, is more likely than one of the lowest estimate of 1.5C. The likelihood appears to be that climatic warming by the end of the present century will present hazards to the earth’s flora and fauna, including its human population. Details of precisely what those hazards may be remain vague, but the distant future looks decidedly grim.

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Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20013193

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